This has been bugging me ever since I saw the latest Star Trek film...

I am willing to accept an obscure substance (red matter) that creates singularities. I am also willing to accept the possibility of a device that can bore to the core of a planet and then somehow keep the tunnel open.

What I cannot understand is why Nero needed to place the red matter in the core of the planet in the first place. Surely, if the created singularity is powerful enough to suppress the effects of a supernova, it should be able to destroy a planet even when placed on its surface. The drilling process seems to me like an unnecessary risk for the Narada.

Now, the drill platform gave a nice excuse for the Narada staying in the same place for some time, as well as for the space-drop scene and then for Sulu swinging around a sword, but I am sure they could have found another reason if they needed to. Is there a semi-official (i.e. in-film or from interviews/deleted scenes/whatever) reason for the use of the drill?

  • 25
    This bothered you, but the canon-shattering multi-lightyear into-warp transport didn't? :P They sacrificed science for style and story. And considering it was the only ST movie my mother enjoyed, it paid off. :)
    – DampeS8N
    Jul 20, 2011 at 23:51
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    It was a fun movie, but it wasn't Star Trek.
    – geoffc
    Jul 21, 2011 at 2:36
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    I don't know why everyone hates that movie so much. I really liked it. And it doesn't really mess with the cannon of the rest of the timeline. Unless there's some big event that I can't think of that happened on Vulcan after that, but I don't remember any plot point off the top of my head (please let me know if there is one). And Spock estimated about 10,000 were still alive. All the vulcan's that made any difference could still be alive or born from that 10,000. Jul 21, 2011 at 20:56
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    @Oghma: I would hate to see what you consider really messing with the canon of the rest of the timeline.
    – Martha
    Jul 21, 2011 at 23:16
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    @Michael This was quite specifically addressed in movie dialogue. The Star Trek movie from 2009, and all sequels, exist in a timeline/universe which is parallel to most pre-existing Star Trek canon. The only pre-existing canon which is still really relevant to that universe (for anyone other than the crew of the Narada, and Spock Prime) is Enterprise, since its events occurred prior to the Narada's arrival and the destruction of the U.S.S. Kelvin.
    – Iszi
    May 28, 2015 at 23:05

6 Answers 6


Let's break things down. Red matter creates singularities. It was a tool given to Spock to stop the supernova's wave of destruction. He was given an extremely large quantity of it for this task. When destroying a planet, they use an extremely small amount of red matter. When the reserve red matter loses containment, it destroys the Narada, which previously had shown the ability to survive entering a black hole when it was thrown backwards through time. When some red matter was used to destroy Vulcan, Spock was able to safely watch from a relatively close distance of Delta Vega, another planet in the Vulcan system.

I put forth the following assertions:

  • The more red matter used, the stronger the singularity.
  • These singularities basically work like black holes as we know them, but somehow the red matter isn't super-massive.
  • There is some in-universe explanation for using the drill.

They used the drill to put the red matter bomb far enough underground that the resulting black hole wouldn't evaporate due to lack of matter feeding in to it. Had they dropped the bomb on the surface of a planet, it would have caused some massive damage, but due to the lack of sufficient mass flowing in to the black hole, it would have evaporated, not destroying the planet. We can see that the black hole that consumed Vulcan wasn't extremely massive, or Delta Vega would have been destroyed as well.

Although this doesn't answer why they didn't just use more red matter instead of drilling. Maybe it's more difficult to transport large quantities of red matter.

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    Maybe they wanted to be able to destroy more planets, so they were frugal with their magic superweapon?
    – Jeff
    Jul 21, 2011 at 15:11
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    I think part of it may be the fact that he wanted Spock to watch and see his world destroyed and they calculated that placing the red matter anywhere else would not have allowed Spock to watch so they put it in the center of the planet. That, and they had this really cool idea for a big honking sci-fi drill for the movie and had to come up with a way to justify it. Another theory I heard someone toss up somewhere is that they needed superheated matter such as what you find in a star or a planet's core in order to detonate the red matter in the manner needed to create the singularity.
    – BBlake
    Jul 21, 2011 at 16:23
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    Possibly the red matter needs intense heat/pressure to set it off.
    – deworde
    Aug 23, 2011 at 22:00
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    It is likely that an implosion triggered at any point other than the core would be too slow, allowing enough time for evacuation.
    – HNL
    Nov 19, 2011 at 7:17
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    Not adding a new answer, but merely adding that placing the singularity into the core should annihilate the planet considerably faster than placing it on te surface, as the gravitational pull is a 3-dimensional thing. In the core it can pull matter from all directions, quickly accelerating the process, while on the surface, matter is pulled essentially only from one side from the beginning, making the whole process slower and easier to stop (accessibility of the singularity)
    – flq
    Apr 23, 2013 at 21:03

While it may not be considered "canon", the novelization explains a few things that are unexplained in the film. The red matter requires the pressure at the core of a planet to ignite and form a singularity.

“Whatever happened to the drill is of no consequence now. We’re deep enough. Launch the Red Matter!”

The science officer looked back at his captain. “We haven’t reached the preselected core depth.” He checked one especially crucial readout. “Temperature may not be high enough to trigger the necessary reaction.”

  • I've taken the liberty of adding a quote and removing the (ranty) chatter
    – Valorum
    Dec 5, 2021 at 20:26

TLDR: Nero wanted to remove the planets without removing their gravities (and relative positions), thereby preserving everything but Vulcan and Earth.

Perhaps the reason for the drill is to ensure that the red matter was deployed at the center of the planet, so that the gravitational forces created by the singularity would be sufficiently similar to that of the planet's so as to not destroy the entire solar system, and further, the entire region.

If there's a correlation between the amount of matter used and the size of the singularity, then a pre-determined amount of red matter deployed at the exact center of the planet would maintain the stability of the surrounding objects when the planet was destroyed. Essentially, he'd "erase" a planet without suffering all the fallout that normally accompanies such a catastrophic event.

I recall Nero mentioning that he wanted to ensure the longevity of the Romulan Empire. Destroying entire solar systems could threaten the entire region, including Romulus. Solar systems would fly apart, sending spacial bodies, including planets hurling into deep space. One destroyed solar system would influence other solar systems and, possibly, entire regions or quadrants of space.

Further, collateral damage towards non-Federation groups could cause them to rise up and attack the Romulans. Destroying the Federation could win the Romulans some allies (or rather, forces they could fold into their own).

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    Destroying Earth wouldn't drastically affect other planets in our own Solar System, let alone planets in other systems. Nov 18, 2011 at 22:23
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    In addition to Keith Thompson's point, collapsing a planet into a black hole doesn't remove the planet's gravity. If the earth collapsed into a black hole, the gravity experienced by the moon, for example, wouldn't change at all. Though this is admittedly way more science-y than Star Trek 2009 requires / deserves. May 31, 2015 at 6:10

You answered this yourself: it wasn't needed. Though, I suppose, it is possible that a singularity created on the surface of a planet wouldn't immediately absorb enough mass to hit critical mass, and the planet would simply be ripped apart (leaving some possibility for survivors) instead of completely annihilated.

It still doesn't make any goddamn sense, of course, but the writers - if you cornered them and held a blowtorch up menacingly - would come up with something.


There are a few possible justifications -Size - the black hole may not have been big enough to destroy the planet otherwise, given the size of the hole at the end this seems plausible. -Heat - it may need heat/energy to activate.

Also, in regards to the first answer: mass isn't key to creating a black hole, density is. Any object of any mass can become a black hole if condensed smaller than a given radius, known as the Schwarzschild Radius, or if raised above a given temperature.

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    – RedCaio
    Sep 9, 2016 at 2:28

The reason for drilling to the planet's core was that red matter only activated in the heat/fusion of the core, which is why it had to be delivered into the star that went supernova. While the red matter was destructive (i.e. very high quality explosive), it only generated a black hole when combined with the reaction of a planet or star core.

However, I agree that a giant drilling device was not needed for these events, you'd think some sort of torpedo could have drilled its way to the core instead.

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    I don't recall that explanation in the movie. Another answer says it's in the novelization; did you read that? Also, the Narada was a mining ship; the drill was probably what they had available. Apr 23, 2013 at 20:04
  • The end of the climactic battle shows the red matter creating a singularity and destroying the Narada. There was no planet core-level heat/fusion present.
    – user1027
    Apr 23, 2013 at 23:30
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    @Keen: I don't recall anything like this answer's explanation being in Star Trek, but if you wanted to make a case for it, you could hand wave the ending away by citing some vague interaction between red matter and the artificial singularity used to power Romulan warp drives. Sep 15, 2013 at 2:36

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